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Skopelos before Christ

According to archaeologists, there were already important settlements on the islands of the Sporades in the Neolithic period, and the history of Skopelos goes back eighteen centuries. The graves of Sendoukia in the middle of the island indeed suggest that there was a colony on Skopelos at that time. In ancient times, the island was called Peparithos by the Greeks and became a colony of Minoan Crete.

According to one legend, Prince Staphilos, son of the god Dionysos and Ariadne, daughter of the king of Minos, was the founder and first inhabitant of Skopelos.

This legend became more concrete in 1936, when archaeologist Nikolaos Platonas found a very richly filled grave near the village of Staphilos. Among the many artifacts was a sword with a 32 cm gold hilt from the Hellenistic period. It was the largest Mycenaean sword ever found and was thought to be the tomb of a royal person from the period of Cretan rule. The Cretans also brought the art of cultivating olives and grapes to Skopelos and for many centuries afterwards Skopelos was famous for its fine olive oil and wines. Around the 8th or early 7th century BC, the village of Staphilos was abandoned and the villages of Panormos, Selinous (now Loutraki) and Peparithos (where Skopelos Town is today) became increasingly important.

After the Mycenaean era, there is a gap of several centuries in the history of Skopelos, which is only followed by a period of prosperity in the 6th to early 5th centuries. During this period, silver coins were minted in Peparithos and economic relations were established with other city-states in the Aegean. Olive oil and wine in particular were exported. In 569 BC, Agnon, an athlete from Skopelos, wins a competition at the Olympic Games (the bay of Agnontas is named after him).

After the Persian Wars, Peparithos lost its independence and became part of the First Delian League (478 - 404 BC), consisting of Athens and its allies in the Aegean. In 427 BC, Skopelos was struck by a devastating earthquake, followed by a tsunami. Then, after a brief Spartan domination, Skopelos fell under the Second Delian League (378 -338 BC).

During the Hellenistic period (late 4th century BC to 1st century BC) Skopelos became entangled in the struggle between the successors of Alexander the Great and the Romans and Macedonians. Skopelos was still called Peparithos at this time and the wine trade was probably still very profitable. Copper coins were also minted. Peparithos was often mentioned in the (historical) literature of the time, for example Aristotle wrote about the famous wine that, besides being simply tasty, was also said to have aphrodisiac properties. In the Classical and Hellenistic periods many temples and fortresses were built on the island.

In 146 BC, the Romans conquered Greek territory, including islands such as Skopelos. It seems, however, that Skopelos, as the island was called by the Romans, still functioned quite independently, since copper coins were still minted there. As far as is known, the name Skopelos was first mentioned in texts by the Greek astronomer and geographer Claudius Ptolemy (from 2nd century BC), probably due to the many reefs and rock ridges that Skopelos has. Otherwise Skopelos was hardly mentioned in the known writings of that time.

Skopelos after Christ

Christianity quickly spread throughout the islands of Greece, including Skopelos. By the 4th century AD, Bishop Riginos was already the central figure on Skopelos and he spread Christianity to the other islands of the Northern Sporades. In 363, under the persecution of Christians by Julian the Apostate, Riginos was murdered and canonised by the Roman Catholic Church. From that time on, he is also the patron saint of Skopelos.

During the first Byzantine period, Skopelos seems to have been used as a place of exile, as it is hardly mentioned in the known writings from that time. After the conquest of Constantinople by the Franks in 1204, Skopelos was conquered by Venetian Marco Sanudo in 1207 and became part of the Duchy of Naxos (also called Duchy of the Archipelago or Duchy of the Aegean). Sanudo used Skopelos as a base for his raids on mainland Greece and the island of Evia.

The Duchy was succeeded by the House of Gizi until 1276. After Gizi, Skopelos became Byzantine again under the Byzantine Emperor Michael VIII Palaeologus and his admiral Alexios Filanthropinos, but still suffered badly from pirates and other attackers.

In 1453, Skopelos and the other Northern Sporades reverted to Venetian rule to avoid occupation by the Turks, but in retrospect perhaps should not have done so. Skopelos, which had the largest population in the Sporades, was now torn between the warring Venetians and Turks, and in 1538 it suffered greatly. In that disastrous year for Skopelos, the island was not only conquered by the Turkish fleet admiral Hayredin Barbarossa, who caused great destruction and most of the inhabitants were slaughtered or enslaved.

That there were still Greeks left is proved by the fact that churches were still being built in that period. Skopelos was still allowed to go its own way and more or less kept the rights it had acquired under the Venetians. There were only two obligations towards the Turks: to pay taxes and to give 30 sailors to the Turkish fleet every year. It is remarkable that during the entire Turkish 'occupation' not a single Turk lived on Skopelos. Travellers who visited Skopelos between the 16th and 19th centuries report a rapidly increasing population and a reasonable economic prosperity, partly due to increasing trade activities from the 18th century onwards. The fact that Skopelos was a significant island at that time is demonstrated by the presence on Skopelos of consuls from England, France and Venice.

From 1750 the first so-called 'armatoloi' arrived on Skopelos from Olympus, Chalkidiki and Thessaly. Armatoloi were initially Greek Orthodox semi-military groups hired by the Turks to control the occupied territories. They were not very loyal, however, as in pre-revolutionary Greece they just as quickly switched back to the Greek side. For example, the freedom fighters Nikotsaras (1768-1807) and Giannis Stathas (1758-1812) found refuge on Skopelos. In 1770, ships from Skopelos took part in the Battle of Cesme, where the Turkish fleet was destroyed. The battle was ultimately part of an unsuccessful uprising by the Greeks against the Turks, but this failed uprising can be considered a precursor to the successful Greek War of Independence of 1821 to 1829.

In the struggle for independence from 1821 onwards, Skopelos took an active part in the struggle and also took in more than 70,000 refugees from Macedonia and Thessaly. The battle against the Turks was won and in 1830 Skopelos became part of the new Greek state. Life on the Sporadic Islands did not improve, however, and in the second half of the 19th century and the first half of the 20th century, many islanders emigrated to the United States, Romania and Russia. During the Balkan unrest and the expedition to Asia Minor, fifteen soldiers from the village of Glossa lost their lives in the peride 1912-1922. Also during the Second World War, several islanders were killed or returned to the island heavily injured. Skopelos still played a major role in the repatriation of allied soldiers fleeing from the Germans and Italians who were brought to Turkey via Skopelos. Skopelos was occupied by the Italians from June 1941 to September 1943 and by the Germans from September 1943 to October 1944. To make matters worse, an outbreak of phylloxera hit Skopelos in 1940, destroying the entire grapevine crop and wine production.

In 1950, the low-lying part of the village of Palio Klima was hit by a number of earthquakes. Many inhabitants fled to the higher part of Palio Klima and tried to rebuild their lives there.

In 1965, Palio Klima was hit by another earthquake, this time in the higher part; Palio Klima was almost completely abandoned by the distraught inhabitants, the empty houses were mostly bought by foreigners. The inhabitants of Palio Klima who wanted to do so were moved in 1981 to the region around Elios, where a completely new village was built for them, Neo Klima.

In the 1980s, tourism to Skopelos took off and is now the main source of income for the islanders.

In 2008, Skopelos was used as a location for filming the movie 'Mamma Mia'.

See also the history page of Greece.



CIA - World Factbook

BBC - Country Profiles

Last updated May 2024
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